By Melinda Rogers
What are the best solutions with which to tackle homelessness in Salt Lake City? And how can people with differing viewpoints come together to move new ideas forward?
Those questions have been at the heart of work in recent months by Michele Straube, director of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Environmental Dispute Resolution Program, who has served as a mediator and researcher as part of Salt Lake City’s Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission.
She has worked as a “conflict coach” in mediating the complex discussions associated with finding solutions related to homelessness in the community — work that has helped steer conversation on thorny topics into a more productive discussion, and fostered resolutions where once-divided parties can now agree and implement solutions together.
Straube’s role on the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission is one aspect of the U’s broader Environmental Dispute Resolution Program, which started as a pilot project four years ago. Unique among U.S. law schools, the program’s mission promotes collaboration, mediation, stakeholder engagement, and alternative dispute resolution as a way to address public policy conflicts. The EDR Program aims to bring people together to find solutions instead of solving problems in court.
The program’s primary focus is to build capacity for collaboration. It is developing a series of collaboration case studies, highlighting best practices and lessons learned, and provides educational opportunities about environmental dispute resolution. It is also home to the unique EDR blog, which publishes guest-authored articles on a range of relevant EDR topics every other week. The EDR staff also provide direct services on select high-profile environmental conflicts in the west, including cases involving sustainable grazing on public lands in southern Utah, facilitating the Escalante River Watershed Partnership, and conducting the analysis of homeless issues in downtown Salt Lake City, which resulted in adoption of the city’s homeless services strategy.
Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.